The Lost Art of Ad Hoc Inquiry

2 min read
Jul 19, 2022 10:11:00 AM

Is it just me or does it seem like the only way to get information from enterprise systems is to run a report or view a dashboard? What ever happened to just being able to query a system or a database and get an answer to a question just like Google searches on the Internet?

Now more now than ever.

Ad hoc enquiry didn’t disappear because people no longer needed it. In fact, quite the opposite; business data is now fragmented across a wide range of systems making an easy case for the argument it is even more valuable now.

Before we go any further, I should declare I have nothing against reporting or data visualization tools and indeed spent a generous portion of my career working in that market and using these tools. Reports are superb for management reporting and data analytics dashboards and have become integral to how people share and deliver data and drive business decisions.

Reports and dashboards are great at what I would call “set piece” presentation of information; they are great when everybody knows and agrees on what they want to see and how they want to see it. where reports and dashboards struggle are when people want answers to questions that were not preempted and have not already been prebaked into a report layout or dashboard design.

For those who are skilled enough, they can use tools that come with the enterprise apps to build a different report or dashboard to answer an unanticipated question – but isn’t it overkill to build a report just to get the answer to a single question? Those without the skills to build a bespoke report are stuck.

In the past, these people would have been able to use a simple ad hoc inquiry tool and apply a couple of filters to interrogate an application or a database and get the answers they needed on a screen.

Many would simply scribble this number down on a piece of paper and move on. They only needed it for informational purposes and didn’t need to produce a report to share it with other people.

Too hard column.

It's clearly not the case that people no longer need instant answers to spontaneous questions, so one can only assume there is another reason behind the demise of ad hoc enquiry. Could it be that the move to running their business on a collection of standalone disconnected systems has ultimately put this way of working with systems into the “too hard” column.

Ad hoc inquiry aficionados were typically people who worked at the crossroads of a business and needed to access data across the business. When all the data lived in one system this impromptu interrogation of a database or application was quite simple to achieve without much technical expertise.

Now that the data is spread across multiple systems this has become significantly more difficult and it's easy to see why the ad hoc inquiry advocates have had to find another way to get the answers they need.

All is not lost.

However, all is not lost for the people who still want to work this way and want to be able to ask one-off questions of the data in their business systems just like they do with Google when searching the Internet.

The latest generation of data blending systems turn the siloed data created by the “many systems” approach back into a single data source. Some of these systems have Excel plugins that enable you to investigate and question data from multiple applications data in Excel without having to author a report or build a dashboard just to get a number or an answer.

For the data free spirits out there, not every question or avenue of inquiry needs to be premeditated.

If you would like to see how eyko can help reinstate ad hoc enquiry then please go to www.eyko.io

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